The Bush administration yesterday proposed new forest rules that could lead to logging, mining, and oil and gas development in remote country that had been protected under a policy issued in the waning days of the Clinton presidency.
The regulations would replace a January 2001 rule that banned building roads and cutting timber on 58.5 million acres of roadless terrain in national forests with a policy giving state governors a say in how the backcountry was managed. Most of the land is in 12 Western states.
Hailed by conservationists, the road-building prohibition was challenged in a series of lawsuits filed by states and various interest groups that complained it was creating de facto wilderness areas, usurping congressional authority. Early court decisions were conflicting, with two federal district court judges ruling against the Clinton road ban and a federal appeals court upholding it.
The Bush administration proposal, announced in Boise, Idaho, by US Secretary of Agriculture Ann M. Veneman, would give governors considerable input on the future of roadless areas. It would be up to the states to petition the federal government if they wanted to maintain road-building bans on all or part of the affected forest land. They also could ask federal officials to open the land to road construction, whether for logging, gas or oil development, or off-road vehicle use. The final decision on the petition would be made by the agriculture secretary.
Mark E. Rey, the agriculture undersecretary who oversees the US Forest Service, said the proposed regulations were an attempt to resolve a 40-year-long fight over the roadless areas, which make up about 30 percent of the country's national forests.